6 Nov 2023

The Somali Red Crescent Society gets ready to act ahead of El Niño-induced floods

El Niño typically leads to warmer sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean, which in turn affects weather patterns globally. In Somalia and the surrounding region, this is expected to bring significant rains during the Deyr season (October to December) in 2023. This will increase the risk of flooding in some areas, which can lead to displacement, the loss of infrastructure and the spread of water-borne diseases. These impacts all exacerbate the vulnerability of the country's population.

Somalia has suffered from the impacts of El Niño in the past. In 2020, flash floods affected more than 300,000 people, while floods caused by two days of heavy rain in 2012 resulted in hundreds of families in the Sahil and Togdheer regions being displaced, with houses destroyed and many hectares of crops beung swept away. Furthermore, floods often lead to the contamination of water bodies, leading to disease outbreaks that affect not only humans but also the livestock that pastoralists depend upon.

Acting in anticipation of heightened impacts

Many communities in Somalia are already suffering, due to a prolonged drought that lasted for 5 consecutive seasons and was the worst in 40 years; this decimated both livestock and crops, pushing several regions to the brink of famine.

The Somali Red Crescent Society aims to avoid further losses among at-risk communities by acting ahead of the forecast floods. With the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the German Red Cross, it has requested support from the Disaster Response Emergency Fund (DREF) for Imminent Crises, which allows National Societies to access funding ahead of expected disasters. The Somali Red Crescent Society is now preparing to assist 25,000 people in Somaliland and Puntland, covering both rural and urban areas.

The critical threshold of 80mm of rainfall, which was predicted in the weekly forecast from the IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC), was reached in the Berbera and Togdeer regions of Somaliland. The Somali Red Crescent Society began implementing readiness activities that will now allow for the quick implementation of early actions. For example, Aquatabs (for water purification) were procured so that they are ready to be distributed. A team of 15 staff also held refresher training for 500 volunteers so that they are ready to raise awareness on water, sanitation and health (WASH) and water-borne diseases.

As part of this DREF for Imminent Crisis, the following early actions were prioritized to reduce the risk of communities of being affected by the forecast floods.

Early warnings for affected communities

  • Activation of community early-warning procedures to reach as many people as possible
  • Risk communication through information and education materials. with the support of volunteers and the mass media

Water, sanitation, and hygiene promotion

  • WASH awareness-raising to prevent water-borne diseases
  • Distribution of Aquatabs for water treatment, including demonstrations of their use

Shelter, housing and settlements

  • Assistance to families for evacuation
  • Support from local governments to establish evacuation centres, so that people know where to evacuate to and have a safe space
  • Distribution of plastic bags to protect family assets, such as important documents.

Working with partners for a coordinated approach

As well as conducting refresher trainings, staff from the Somali Red Crescent Society are also updating risk maps, pre-positioning items for distribution and disseminating community-level early warnings. The National Society is also engaging with other institutions, for example working with local government bodies to prepare evacuation centres and areas. Furthermore, it has activated its national disaster response team, which comprises trained staff and volunteers who are ready to be deployed in the event of an emergency or disaster.

At the national level, the Somali Red Crescent Society is coordinating with the Ministry of Agricultural Development, the National Disaster Preparedness and Food Reserve Authority for Somaliland, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affair and Disaster Management in Puntland, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the Somalia Water and Land Information Management project, as well as with ICPAC to monitor weather and forecasts.

Learning lessons for the future

This is the first time the Somali Red Crescent Society has used DREF funding in an anticipatory manner. Hence, it is an opportunity for real-time learning to generate experience and expertise for future crises, and to develop contingency plans that will allow for activities to be more anticipatory (and less reactive), and so better protect the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable people before disasters strike. It is also finalizing its Early Action Protocol for Drought to protect people from the impacts of this hazard, such as livestock losses, in the future.

Photo: © Somali Red Crescent Society